If you’ve lived in the Valley long enough, you begin to notice a little known phenomenon that starts to happen right around this time every year. The hiking trails get a little busier and more people seem to be switching from iced mochas to Starbucks pumpkin spiced lattes. Everyone seems to have a little more pep in their step as we emerge from our extended air-conditioned hibernation. In other parts of the country, they may call this a change of seasons, yet here in Phoenix, I refer to it as a return to double digits. 

Although I am not a native, I have called Arizona home for 21 years which I believe gives me the right to fight back when I hear out-of-towners naively proclaim, “Arizona doesn’t have seasons, it’s just a brown, dry desert.” Dry, yes, but lacking in color, wrong! True, folks in places like Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire wake up to a swath of auburn, gold and magenta, whereas we have to take a road trip to experience our version of New England’s fall foliage, but trust me, the destination is worth the journey. 

One of my favorite places is Lockett Meadow located inside the Coconino National Forest outside of Flagstaff. At an elevation of 8600 feet, it is one of the best areas to soak in the autumn colors. I don’t know about you but just thinking about my trip north on Highway 17 towards the high country conjures up visions of sweaters, scarves and jackets. Once I arrive, I’m never quite prepared for the cornucopia of pigment that washes over all the majestic aspen trees that are the cornerstone of this meadow. On my first visit to Lockett Meadow, we were there to film a story for Arizona Highways Television about fall in Arizona and to dispel the myth that our two seasons are just summer and construction. 

I will admit that prior to doing my show, I didn’t do a lot of traveling around our state, so I never gave much thought to whether Arizona did indeed have a winter, spring, summer and fall. However, as I walked around this enchanting white trunk forest capped in greens and gorgeous gold, there was no doubt that what I was experiencing was autumn, not just any autumn, but autumn in Arizona. 

As excited as I was about my newfound discovery, I thought that in order to make a compelling argument that leaves do change color in the Grand Canyon State, I must have more than photographic proof from one area, proof that this was not an anomaly. I must find other places in our state where colors are unabashedly bold. Luckily, my crew was up for the task and our search uncovered all I was hoping to find and so much more. 

A short drive from Flagstaff is the awe-inspiring red rock country of Sedona. It’s not only the embodiment of beauty and balance but during the months of September and October, Oak Creek Canyon erupts in color from deep burgundy, to terra cotta and honey gold. Further east towards the White Mountains where the elevation can reach 11,000 feet, we couldn’t contain our amazement as we drove through the sleepy mountain towns of Greer, Eager and Alpine. Everywhere we looked, the green was intertwined with those magnificent harvest hues. Of course, I then felt the need to give a little love to our neighbors down south who don’t seem to get as much seasonal attention as our friends in the north. Lo and behold, we discovered some fabulous leaf peeping sites such as Madera Canyon, Mount Lemmon and the Chiricahuas, often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the South or the land of standing up rocks. 

So the next time your neighbors brings out their scrapbook full of Maple leaves from their trip to Maine, tell them that for the price of a tank of gas you can experience the full color spectrum and fiery brilliance of fall not far from your own backyard.

— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award

winning Arizona Highways Television.